Friday, January 25, 2013

Rejuvenation Ramblings

Dear Friends,

Miracles happen. Today I spent the day almost medication free and, as reward, Mother Nature decided to give me a dose of her best medicine: blue skies and SUNSHINE! I think those who recommended I get a little more Vitamin D in my life (thank you to ALL for the sympathy and recommendations!) were right on target, because my outlook on life was transformed by those golden yet ever-so-frigid rays.
In celebration of my nearly-healthy status, I spent the evening sanitizing my cabin. I'm pushing the restart button next week and revamping my existence in an effort to live as healthily and disease-proof as possible. Sanitizing was just the beginning. Vitamins, exercise, and a consistent sleep routine are being added to the check list. I actually swallowed the ridiculous cost and joined a Moscow gym this week. People, this city is expensive. I will never complain about San Francisco or New York again. But back to topic: my running routine has been severely limited by the winter weather...I'm just not that hard core...and this girl needs to get her cardio ON.

As far as the sleep routine goes, I'm having difficulty. Why? I've been reading War and Peace this week. Amazing. Be prepared for a post completely dedicated to the genius that is Tolstoy in the near future. The major drawback to being completely drawn into his Russia of 200 years ago is the serious lack of sleep that has ensued. And during a week when I'm trying to get healthy!!! You see, my normal solution when I get completely drawn into a book is to just make a night of it, sacrifice sleep, and plow through until it's finished. (Patience is not my greatest virtue). This has been a long-standing tradition since my childhood...I read under the covers, in the bathroom and in the closet by both flashlight and candlelight, as necessary. Every night I had to come up with a new strategy to keep my mom from glimpsing the light that might give me away. Meet my early rebellious tendencies. ANYWAY, I'm reading War and Peace via the convenience of Kindle and, while there is much to be said for electronic reading, I will say it's major drawback is the lack of a physical book. Profound, right? While my Kindle can tell me that I'm 83% finished with a book, I have a hard time grasping what that translates to in actual book-held-in-my-hand land. W&P isn't exactly a quick read, but on Wednesday night I decided I must be somewhere in the vicinity of the end, and opted to just "plow through it." It was suddenly 6 am. And I hadn't finished. So the sleep routine is forthcoming. As soon as I finish the book...

In other news, we still have snow. And a lot of the beautiful, fresh kind this week. It's made some of the Christmas decor all the more beautiful. Yes, we're still all done up for the holidays over here.
And in the continuing holiday spirit, I broke into another one of my Christmas presents. I had intended to save these for a seriously rainy day a month or two down the road (the beauty of preservatives), but the past two weeks demanded dipping. Who am I to intervene?
While I don't enjoy being confined at home with no will to do anything but sleep, the few days I spent in bed did make for some convenient vacation planning time. June feels impossibly distant given the current winter conditions, but I'm already looking forward to family adventures in London, Paris, Italy, and Switzerland. I'll be asking all of my travel-savvy friends and fellow expats for recommendations and advice, so be prepared! But the real icing on this particular vacation cake? It ends in Russia with my SISTER! For all I might complain, I love this place and I'm thrilled that I'll actually get to show it off to someone I love!
Consider these my rejuvenated random ramblings. Happy Weekend!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

An Evening Snapshot

I'm sitting/laying in bed. To my left is a grocery bag filled with used Kleenex and a box of fresh at the ready. On that same side, but a bit further down the bed are two opera scores, a Russian grammar book, and a notebook filled with verb conjugations to memorize.

To my right: Tylenol Cough & Cold (SO glad I stocked up when I went home!!!), Aleve, a Russian nasal spray that will probably completely and permanently destroy my sense of smell, highlighters, a red pencil and a pen, chocolate covered blueberries, earrings that I was too lazy to climb out of bed and put away, and Febreze "to go". Don't be fooled by the name...I am not going anywhere.

And this is my life.

Maybe this is your ideal. I, however, find a certain number of problems with this scenario:

  • New Year's Resolution of "banning books and scores as sleeping companions." I have now effectively moved the entire contents of my apartment onto my bed and, for the time being, have no intention of removing them. So long resolution #1.
  • The tea, water, and ginger apple cider that I've been living off of have to be kept on the floor to the left of the bed. That's a decent reach away! Unfortunately I haven't come up with an alternative that allows for beverages to be stored on the bed, so my suffering/workout continues.
  • After spending all day yesterday in bed, I got up today determined to be healthy: curled my hair, did my makeup and put in earrings...just to prove who's really in charge of this body...and went to work. When I dragged myself back into my bed immediately upon arrival home, the only determination that remained was never to leave the house again.
  • My unfolded laundry is staring me down, hanging on its drying rack at the foot of my bed. WHO in their right mind thought that was a good place to put it?! It's not in arm's reach, so it can't be dealt with, but it's mocking me all the same.
  • This is the time of year when I am attempting to make professional life decisions. And all I want to do is never leave my bed again. Not helpful.
  • Failure. It's what I'm feeling. I love my body and I really do try to take care of it. I run, do yoga, buy expensive green vegetables (spinach is pricy here!), try to drink a healthy amount of water, make my homemade herbal teas, and put my juice extractor to good use. So...where did I go wrong? Russia hates me or my body hates Russia, but this is Round 4 of "the plague" which normally visits once a winter and then goes merrily on its way. I seem to have failed my dear little immune system, but am lost as to what life changes to make in order to rectify said failure.
There are plenty of silver linings to be found: chocolate covered blueberries, ginger apple cider, fresh snowfall, the best blanket *EVER* which I decided to haul back to Russia the beginning of January, and plenty of easily-accessible medication (antibiotics are an over-the-counter item here). But, silver liners and all, I'd much prefer to just get rid of the clouds altogether.

Here's to another day in bed and summoning every last ounce of determination to be fully functional by Monday! Hope you're healthy and happy wherever you may be!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Moscow Mondays: Tsaritsyno

Some Mondays are just plain 'ole Mondays, even in Moscow. Yesterday I went to Russian class, conjugated approximately 5,342 verbs (I may have lost track in the counting process, but I'm sure this figure is nearly accurate), went to work, and then went straight home, earlier than user. You see, this week is brought to you by "I'm not sick. I will NOT be sick! I'm NOT SICK!!!!" This is the game in which I refuse to acknowledge headache, sore throat and the beginnings of a chest cold, in an effort to show Moscow who's REALLY in charge.

That being said, evenings in really are in order (I'm not completely foolish). So...while I didn't venture out on this particular Monday, I did some exploration last Wednesday and will recount said adventure today!

Tsarytsino: It's just a quick jaunt down the green line, but you surface from the underground into a different world. No crowds, fresh air, trees...I can see why someone would want to build a home here. Here's the modest little dacha itself:
I couldn't actually get far enough back to fit it in the frame. Note to self: save for a fancy new lens.

I could make to with a slightly smaller house if I got to live on these grounds. Seriously, I love being outdoors and despite my perpetual mocking of the fact that I live in a cabin in the woods, I don't know that I could make-do in Moscow city life without these serene places of retreat.

This may have been one of my favorite sights: free internet available. In the middle of a giant, snow-covered field. Welcome to Russia.
Also on the list of favorites, homemade "slip 'n' slides." The snowy version. I'll have to document one of these next time I come across it, but basically a smooth, icy patch has been warn down on the sidewalk to serve as a slippery rush of sorts. I don't know who's making them...all you have to do is walk down the streets of Moscow and you'll unintentionally fall on 50 or so. Literally. Fun nonetheless!

And last, but not least, of the favorites:
There is something so whimsical and fantastic about this staircase. In the event of me living at Tsaritsyno (any guesses on those odds), I would pass many an hour (in warmer seasons, of course!) at the top of this staircase, likely with a book. Envision the trees covered with greenery, and it's basically a fancy treehouse.

While much of my life is spent wishing for warmth, I have to say on this particular day I wouldn't have traded the stunning snowfall for anything! You know those fake looking snowflakes plastered on winter decorations that look absolutely picture perfect? I SAW THOSE! One fell on my camera and I was thrilled. I have never seen a real life perfect snowflake. Made. My. Day!!!

If you're planning a trip to Moscow, or already here, be sure this place is on your list of things not to miss!

Friday, January 11, 2013

What Did YOU Have For Breakfast???

Did it look something like this?

While caviar is not my standard breakfast fare, I did feel legitimately Russian today with this spread. Caviar may or may not have crossed your mind as a breakfast dish. In my case, it hadn't. But one of my singers gifted me this beautiful tub of caviar yesterday, along with bread, butter, and instructions:

"You should eat it for breakfast. Or any time of day really. But definitely breakfast."

She's been explaining Russian traditional dishes to me for the past few days...we are coming off one of their most elaborate holidays (New Years) and a Russian spread is something to in the spirit of cultural understanding and appreciation, breakfast it was.

While this was not my first experience with caviar, I haven't eaten it on a regular enough basis to have my mind wrapped around that texture.  The first bite is always slightly questionable, the second bite is all about mental processing, and from thereon, I'm good to go. And oddly enough, I finish it and find myself curiously excited to repeat the process.  Which I did, just before typing that line, in an effort to ensure this post was as accurate as possible. And maybe to have another excuse to spread excessive amounts of butter onto an innocent piece of bread...

People, I like it. I think I may be officially acclimated.

Anything interesting on your plates this morning?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Moscow Mondays: Christmas Take 2!

The beauty of arriving back in Moscow on the 3rd of January was that as our holidays were ending, theirs were really only just getting underway. And people here take their holidays and relaxation very seriously, a la Russe. As in, the normally swarming metros feel almost void of people and there's a Christmas tree on every corner (in the center anyways). Except that they're not Christmas trees...the major Russian holiday is New Year's. Orthodox Christmas falls on January 7th, and while everyone is celebrating at that point, it's primarily due to the fact that they just never stopped celebrating New Years.

I love it. I came back to Moscow and it felt like a different city. Especially since the weather had warmed up significantly in my absence.

Christmas Day (Round 2) I took to the streets to check out the holiday makeover. And to's a popular Russian pastime. During daylight, it was lovely. In the evening, it was stunning. And seriously cold. My friend Nastya found us a Russian "mythology" tour of the area around the Kremlin. Most of the stories and history were presented in an "official" version and then several variations of myths followed. Needless to say, my sense of Russian history is all the more confused. We cut out of the 2.5 hour walking tour a bit early. There comes a point when nothing makes it worth being out in the cold for even a minute longer. We were there.

Besides, we had business to attend to: my first Russian cooking class! Pilmyeni are delicious and fortunately not overly complicated to make. They're also something you can cook and eat pretty much immediately, which is an added bonus. And ultimately, I think cooking makes the best possible souvenir. It's always fun to bring a piece of a country home with you that you can recreate. When I find myself homesick for Russia (assuming a time when I'm not living here), I'll have a comfort food to bring me back home!

And of course a Russian cooking class would NOT be complete without a matryoshka apron.
While, we couldn't fit everything into Christmas Day, the weekend before we also enjoyed a holiday highlight: The Nutcracker. If you ever decide to brave the cold and visit Russia during the winter, try to hit it up over the holidays. And DON'T miss our Bolshoi Ballet performing this classic. If you live in Moscow, add it to your bucketlist. The set is stunning, the dancers are fantastic, and there's nothing quite like seeing a Russian classic while on Russian soil. When in Moscow...

I'm chalking up Second Christmas as a success. While it's back to work for most of the Russian populace today, never fear...Old New Year's and another day off is just around the corner! After all, the best holidays deserve to be celebrated twice!!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lovely Laziness

I was catching up with a friend whilst Stateside and he asked me what I'd been up to that day.

My answer: "I've been building an igloo."
(Exhibit of said artistry. My brother-in-law asked when we were planning on finishing it. I don't know what he's talking about.)

Friend's response: "Wow. You've been really busy, huh?"

His sarcasm was perfectly appropriate. My days home were filled with blissful laziness. And it was SO refreshing! I am NOT the expert at unwinding and the majority of my travels are work-related (with the fabulously glaring exception of the 2012 Cruise Edition aka "My New Life"), so I efficiently pack sight-seeing and vacationing into any free time on the schedule. Which sounds far lamer than it is. Promise.

This being the case, however, my prime place for relaxation: Home.

Here's this holiday's combination for relaxation:

Younger siblings who allow me to revert to childlike behaviors and only mildly complain. Likely due to the fact that they exhibit similar tendencies. Example: Sister working the shrimp platter.
Said sister was my igloo accomplice.

The cutest nieces and nephews on the planet. Let's not fight about this. No need for internet strife when you're already wrong.

An amazing mom who keeps food in the cupboard (we all know how I feel about grocery shopping) AND on the table. I return the favor my making her homemade tea and ill simultaneously...oops. But seriously, Mom knows everything that makes my world a brighter place and makes it happen while I'm home.

My Daddy (that's right, one of those girls...and always will be!) backs me up in my running habits and each summer that I can squeeze it in, whisks us away to my favorite spot on earth and my personal therapist, Lake Powell.

Stunning views. This one is my personal joy.
Though the backyard's not bad either.

Stocking up for a Russian winter. With only essentials, clearly.

And last, but not least, TIME. To sleep, to play, to do NOTHING. It's glorious!!!

Hope your holidays were/are relaxation filled! And if you happen to be a Russian reader, then Merry Christmas or С Рождеством!!! I can totally support two Christmases within 2 weeks.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hello 2013!!!

I'm back!

A quick glimpse into today's travel: My backyard in Utah, complete with frolicking deer.
A quick stop at LAX for some sunshine and a lovely lunch date at Encounter. (Please disregard my awkward, mid-motion hand).

And full snow circle...back to Moscow!!!

And now that I'm home, snuggled in the world's coziest blanket by a blazing fire (translation: my cinnamon scented candle), and sipping ginger tea, I'm ready to embrace the New Year! I love fresh starts, but I don't always love sticking a timeline to them. And mid-vacation is never a time to get ambitious, so...3.1.13 seems as nice a starting number as any!

I love lists. Love goals. Life lived aimlessly leaves too much undiscovered potential to be attractive. BUT I also don't like to fail. Which means two things when it comes to 3.1.13 Resolutions:

1) Avoid quantitative goals. This does have some exceptions, as habit is a power NOT to be underestimated, but there is not a goal on my list that includes the words "every day". If any of my ambitions convert into daily habit inadvertently, I won't complain. But when it comes to "year-long" lists, those words are a death sentence.

2) Frame them with flexibility. This requires an attitude adjustment for the controlling natures out there, including me, myself, and I. We ourselves can't predict how we will grow in the course of a year. Experiences, relationships...that little thing called "Life" likes to happen, and if we don't modify our goals and resolutions accordingly, then they become obsolete. The "You" that existed on January 1st ideally won't be the same "You" that you encounter on June 1st...especially if you've been sticking to your resolutions! So revisit, rethink, and refresh.

In keeping with my current philosophies #1 and #2, my list is a bit shorter than other New Years have seen. Amongst the things I would like 2013 to include: banning books and scores as sleeping companions (this has become a significant problem in an apartment where I don't have a couch), building my yoga practice in preparation for my 2013/14 yoga retreat (who's in?!?), training for marathon #2, and financial farewell to the student loans!

But behind each item on my list is the unquantifiable resolution. The recommitment to what I want to "be" rather than just merely what I'd like to do. You see, on a frigid Moscow morning, at the Izmailovsky Market, I had a wake up call.

I was freezing. My feet were numb. My hands under two pairs of gloves were still bright red and tingling with the cold. Not hiking Everest or anything noble, just Christmas shopping. I had just finished touring the market with a friend to get our bearings. What booths had the best quality? And lowest prices? And what exactly did I want to buy anyway?! As we made our way down a long set of stairs to start Round 2: The Purchase, I thought only of the cold and my shopping itinerary...who would get what gift and how to get them all as quickly as possible to avoid frostbite. I was halfway down the stairs and talking to myself before I realized my friend wasn't with me. I looked back and saw why. There, fighting her way up the stairs with a wheeled cart in tow was a little babushka, likely fiery as most babushkas are, but clearly in need of help. My friend had stopped to carry her cart to the top of the stairs.

I HAD NOT EVEN SEEN HER. In my haste, with my efficiency and my self-centered agenda, I literally had become completely blind to the world around me, and the obvious needs of someone placed directly in my path.

While I hurried to take the old woman's arm and help her up the steps, I felt stunned and ashamed. How had I become so self-consumed as to become oblivious to the people around me? It's not that I wouldn't love to help, but I was so completely unaware that I wasn't able to.

Hello 2013. Hello unquantifiable resolution of awareness. Awareness of both strangers and of the friends and family with whom I interact daily. What are they going through that no one is noticing? How can I help them make it to the top of the staircase that is their struggle? I don't have all the answers, but I know it has to start with seeing. Beyond myself.

So while my list is short, my motivation is high. And I truly hope that I find the ability to better myself this year. To start seeing. Not just for the success of my checklist, but for the struggling babushka at Izmailovsky Market. And for anyone else who might need help up some stairs.

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